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Giving the broken another chance at life

One of the lasting impressions from visiting Possumwood sanctuary in Bywong is how similar the convalescing patients from the marsupial family are to the pets around your home.

An Eastern Grey joey or a young Wallaroo appreciate a tickle under the chin or a scratch behind the ear, just like your faithful pooch. These youngsters sniff your trouser legs inquisitively, take a taste of your shoelaces (or notebook) and don’t mind a cuddle.

Around 60 kangaroos of different species and ages as well as the odd possum, wombat, lizard, crow and turtle, are currently being treated and are convalescing at the Possumwood Wildlife Recovery and Research centre.

It’s run by husband and wife team general practitioner Rosemary Austen (pictured above) and ethics professor Steve Garlick. They are establishing Possumwood as a charity after years of doing the same good Samaritan work relying totally on their own resources, largely Rosemary’s income as a GP. Weekly food, milk and vet costs are the big items.

Caring members of the public bring in wildlife who (themselves or Mum) have been run over by cars, attacked by dogs (or cats in case of reptiles), caught up in fences or shot by humans who consider this ‘sport’ or pest management.

“I started 15 years ago with fence injuries,” says Rosemary. “At that time kangaroos caught in fences were always shot.” Her first aid skills as a doctor   came in handy to treat wounds, give pain relief, splint fractures, heal infections, and sew pouches ripped by barbed wire.

A vet was needed for surgical aspects. She met the legendary wildlife veterinarian Howard Ralph (profiled previously in the  Bulletin) in 2006 and has been working with him ever since.

Many of the convalescing kangaroos at Possumwood have a bandaged rear foot or leg, testament to Dr Ralph’s surgical skills, which have laid to rest the myth that you cannot operate on a kangaroo limb.

Possumwood research – which documents care and also behavioural observations (e.g. post trauma stress) – helps wildlife carers, the veterinary field and the general public to a better understanding. For example, after 50 consecutive fence rescues, Steve and Rosemary found that joeys had a good recovery success rate which was less so for larger animals.

Some 2000 animals have been rehabilitated over the years with an average of 200-250 new residents annually

The couple present their findings in research papers to international conferences and host international visitors. They do not shy away from telling the world about Australian governments’ lethal treatment of our national emblem (be it ‘culling’ as in the ACT or promoting the world’s biggest wildlife slaughter for meat and hides). People are always shocked and amazed, they say.

Injured animals are brought in from a 300 km radius including from the ACT where the official policy is to shoot rather than offer medical attention. Some area farmers, including around Molonglo Gorge also “blast away” at kangaroos, leading to survivors being brought in by caring members of the public.

The worst story told us by Rosemary, pointing to a now healthy joey Lucy, was of what had happened to her mother, who was shot through the upper jaw by some idiot in the Tinderries. When she was found cowering in a shed, her wound was totally infected and maggot-ridden, and she could not clean her baby in the pouch as they do. The joey was covered in urine and as a result had ulcers in her eyes. This is what happens.

Some 2000 animals have been rehabilitated over the years with an average of 200-250 new residents annually who might stay for weeks or as long as a year. Once healed, the animals are released to a safe country property.

“We are very satisfied to take animals who have been broken and give them another chance at life,” Garlick summed up the kind and momentous task they have given themselves.

If you want to learn more about the work at Possumwood or support its drive to upgrade the facility, go to www.possumwood.com.au.

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